Happy World Book Day! From events across the country, to dressing up as your favourite character (we *might* have a Gruffalo costume in the drawer somewhere), this is one of those celebrated days we love - definitely more than 'National Static Electricity Day' anyway! I promise that does exist and we also missed national 'Step in a puddle and splash your friends day'. That was January 11th, honest! ;)
Anyway, our tradition on World Book Day is to take some time out, sit down and read a little bit of one of our favourite books - and one of those from last year was The Lost Words, by award-winning writer Robert Macfarlane and acclaimed artist Jackie Morris.
The book was a response to the Oxford Dictionary for Children removing around 50 words relating to nature, like Kingfisher, Conker, Heron, Otter, Acorn and Bluebell.
Robert and Jackie created a book of incredible ‘Spell-Poems’ and beautiful watercolours inspired by these words, to stand against them being forgotten and to encourage children to explore the outdoors and their natural surroundings.
John spearheaded an inspirational campaign to get a copy of The Lost Words in to every primary school in Somerset, because he felt so passionately about these words being lost. He reached his fundraising target last October and to mark World Book Day, we thought we'd catch up with him to find out what's happened since we last spoke - and how Somerset schools are responding to these beautiful books being delivered right now.
As John tells us;
"When The Lost Words for Somerset’s Primary Schools was launched in August 2018, I had no idea what was to come. I recall being incredibly nervous, as many people had been asking me to run a campaign but I just wasn't sure how it would be received. There were so many sleepless nights trying to put the project together, but in the end I was left humbled by how it all went - and is still going to this day.
When the fundraising was done, over 250 copies of The Lost Words arrived at my home and each one was lovingly prepared with a letter, telling the school how it came about. Everyone who made it happen was named and each book was wrapped in a silk ribbon.
The first primary school to receive a copy was St James Church School in Taunton and this became the official launch of the handover, with a special programme on BBC Somerset’s Breakfast Show with Claire Carter.
The school hall was specially decorated by some of the teachers during the half-term, and one of the children told us how he went home the previous night and researched the words that had been lost - and how wrong it was that these words were being taken away from children, when they wanted them kept. What struck me was how eloquent he was. I don't mind admitting, the passion shown for the book that morning had me shedding a few tears.
Since then, books have been going out to all corners of Somerset and there are still more to send out.
As the books arrive at local schools, I've heard of classrooms being renamed after some of the words in the book - like Bluebell, Heron and Kingfisher. Stories of how schools are using the book to inspire children to explore nature, and some schools turning assembly halls into special areas for reading, has made my heart sing.
The children of Hemmington Primary School in Radstock produced their own acrostic Spell-Poem, based on the beautiful Hornbeam Tree in the grounds of their school.
Wellsprings School made a special announcement with the whole school and parents attending too.
The audio version of the books has recently been released too. Cerys Matthews, Guy Garvey, Edith Bowman and Benjamin Zephaniah are narrating the poems, with sound track to birdsong. It really is breathtaking. An eight-piece band has also written songs based on The Lost Words and over the last few months, they've performed their music at sell out dates. They'll be appearing at the Hay Festival on 29th May, with the album being released on 12th July.
Pre-orders can obtain a wonderful copy of the album, that comes with a book of specially created artwork by Jackie Morris and new spell-pomes by Robert Macfarlane.
For me, The Lost Words for Somerset will remain an ongoing project as it's one that's etched on my heart. Our beautiful county of Somerset has some of the most diverse natural wonders, it needs our support and we can do this by encouraging children. That's why The Lost Words has become so important.
I couldn't have got this far without the incredible, tireless support of Sarah Cook who runs the Somerset Literacy Network. We would love to run an art exhibition featuring art from all the schools, at some point later this year. Over recent months, I've also been assisting with other fundraising projects connected to The Lost Words around the country".
"Personally, it has been an emotional rollercoaster since May last year and when exhaustion hits, I think of some of the words from the children of St John’s Church School in Taunton and that's enough to keep me going!"
Well, we think John has done a truly fantastic job, bringing the joy of these words to Somerset primary schools. Just recently, John received a letter from pupils at Chewton Mendip Primary School, Badger Class and Squirrel Class Year 4s, saying how much they love the book and thanking John for their copy.
Here are some of the things they said about it:
‘The poems inside are really well illustrated and the poems are educational’ – Marnie
‘We really like the vocabulary and it will be very useful in our writing and stories’ – Ed & Niven
‘We love nature and we are the school’s gardening class’ - Badger class
‘I like acrostic poems’ - Ruby
‘It will help us write great poems’ - Mili
‘We love the brilliant detail in the pictures and their colour’ - Bethany & Amelie
‘I like the letters down the side’ - Murron
‘I like the rhythms’ - Ini
‘I like the fact that there are animals that are not in the dictionary’ – Harry A
‘We like it when our teachers read the different poems and we get to choose which one’ – Badger class
How awesome is that?
We'll be reading a bit of The Lost Words today too, remembering just how special the book is.
John is marking World Book Day himself, by talking about one book that shaped his life and changed his future reading. As John says:
"When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit by Judith Kerr was released in 1971. I recall reading it back in 1972 and this book changed my entire life. It's based on the true life experiences of the author and from this book, I started to want to learn about what really happened in WWII and horrors of the Holocaust. All these year later, I am still sharing those stories and will continue to do so, as I believe these are the stories that need to be shared - especially in our current climate".
We'd love to hear what books have inspired or changed you, so please do tag us in your social media posts too - and enjoy wonderful World Book Day.